On Monday night, the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets closed out the NBA's summer schedule with the title game of the Las Vegas Summer League. Naturally, though, a league championship is not the primary draw of the NBA's various summer leagues. Instead, it's getting a look at freshly drafted rookies like Cleveland Cavaliers wing Andrew Wiggins and improving youngsters like Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. In the absence of especially meaningful games, it can be exciting to witness the future of the league.
Yet the Vegas Summer League is not populated only by this minority of notable prospects. The vast majority of participants don't have contracts or a solidified future in the league. For them, these games are an opportunity to show their skills in front of an audience of NBA executives and teams around the globe. The goal is not so much to start their careers as to extend them.
To get insight into the experience of these players, James Herbert of Eye on Basketball spoke to several veterans in Vegas:
Part of the job is teaching. [Shannon] Brown has three years on the second-oldest member of the New York Knicks summer league team, and he's a full seven years older than a few of them. The coach, Derek Fisher, was Brown's teammate when he won those titles. He admitted it was a bit weird to be playing for him.
"I respect him as a coach, as a person, as a player," Brown said. "I just try to put all that aside and try to hear what he's saying, what he wants us to do and accomplish on the basketball court, and go out there and try to help the young players." [...]
Due to the presence of 19-year-olds Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo -- who are also expected to be the Bucks' starting frontcourt in the regular season -- the 25-year-old [Chris] Wright came off the bench. He described his role as a big brother, someone who can demonstrate what it means to be professional.
"[I'm] trying to show them the ropes," he said. "There's a lot about basketball but then again there's a lot that goes on off the court that people don't get to see, and [I'm] just trying to be a professional at all times, especially when you know it's people watching all the time. Just trying to show guys that haven't really been in this situation before that you can have talent, but you also got to have the character to go along with it."
To hear it from Brown, Wright, and big man Quincy Acy (also quoted in Hibbert's article), the idea is that they can prove their worth not just from what they do on the court, but as serving as veteran presences among players who need to learn the NBA game. Brown, for instance, has helped younger players understand Fisher's triangle-influenced offense. These veterans might not have the gravitas of a future Hall of Famer like Kevin Garnett, but they have seen enough in the league to impart some wisdom.
Whether that experience proves enough to help them grab roster spots this fall remains to be seen. Regardless of their fate, it does seem that summer league can help these players transition into new periods of their careers. In an NBA-related atmosphere, vets like Brown get to serve as elder statesmen and nurture the talents of up-and-coming players. They're acting as a team's veteran presence, even if just for a week or two.
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